Anniversary Reactions Are Real, And Common

Thoughtful man in the living roomYesterday, as we hit the one-year mark since the COVID-19 shutdown, I started to think about anniversaries. Have you ever felt a sense of sadness from out of the blue, only to look at the calendar and realize that your feeling corresponds with the anniversary of some unhappy or jarring event?

On March 11, 2020, the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a pandemic. The twelve months that followed have been marked by uncertainty, fear, scarcity, and loss. We’ve been reminded that life is short and can change on a dime.  “How could this be happening?” and “When will end?” have been common thoughts.  Going to the grocery store, for example, quickly came to require various precautions no one thought we’d ever need. While the anxiety we were feeling had a palliative effect, an eerie sense of loss still seemed to somehow surround us.

During the first few months, I struggled to keep those around me feeling safe and productive. And I found some bright spots, and maybe you did too: more time with my kids, more walks to the beach, and less time in my car.

Yet those silver linings stood in sharp contrast to the emotional stresses that seemed to persistently arise from the odd spectrum of threats and disruptions all around us.

As we look back over the year, many dates along the way may hold significance for you. Maybe it was the date of a job loss, or the date someone you love became ill, or the time you had last spent in-person with a loved one. And merely thinking of those anniversary dates are all but certain to trigger a memory – and maybe a painful one.

Triggers may come from out of the blue around the time of an anniversary. They may happen while we’re at work, at home, or relaxing. On the anniversary of a traumatic event, people often experience a re-occurrence of some or all of the feelings they had experienced at the time of the event. This common syndrome is called an “anniversary reaction.”

Anniversary reactions can be initiated by anything associated with the original trauma, including the season of the year, a particular date, or even the hour of the day. These thoughts, feelings, and reactions can be upsetting, so it’s normal to have strong reaction. Healing from trauma takes time, and healing from COVID-19 is complicated by the fact that we are still living through it.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or depressed, please know that this is a normal way to react to today’s often-unimaginable events. Healing can happen, but it takes time and support. If your reactions get worse or disrupt your life, consider talking to a trained professional who understands these reactions. They are skilled at finding effective coping tools – the kind of tools that will unleash your inner resilience.

The Association for Mental Health and Wellness, a NY Project Hope local crisis counseling provider, helps Suffolk County residents understand their reaction and emotions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through an emotional support helpline, educational materials, and trusted referrals, NY Project Hope provides support so that people can manage the changes brought on by COVID-19.  If you, or someone you know, needs help, call our helpline at 631-471-7242 ext. 1800.

4 thoughts on “Anniversary Reactions Are Real, And Common

  1. Gaylene Pandolfo March 18, 2021 / 8:23 am

    So well said Colleen.
    Thank you.
    For anyone have thoughts of suicide please reach in and call
    1800 273-TALK
    Gaylene Pandolfo, LCSW

    Liked by 1 person

    • cmerlomhaw March 18, 2021 / 8:31 am

      Thank you for taking time to read, Gaylene and for sharing this resource.
      I hope you are well.


  2. Matt McCluskey March 19, 2021 / 12:17 pm

    Some really great thoughts on a time we will certainly not forget. It is sometimes painful but also helpful to reflect on the past year to hopefully gain some perspective. I am also glad you mentioned trauma as I think it is something a lot of people have experienced this past year but seems to me is not discussed enough in the context of the pandemic. Thank you, Matt McCluskey, MS Ed., CRC

    Liked by 1 person

    • cmerlomhaw March 19, 2021 / 1:13 pm

      Hi Matt,
      Thank you for taking time to read this post. I agree that we need to have more dialogue toward helping people understand the past year through a trauma lens. I hope you are well!


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